Texas is another country...

Texas is another country...I have driven into Texas from all four directions and can affirm that after crossing that imaginary state line you just know you are in Texas . The world becomes wide open space, the sky feels higher, you can stretch out and rest a spell.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

BARTON SPRINGS - Part II

Post by Cameron Cash

When the New York tour company called to hire me for another show, they also informed me that one of my costars from the previous tour had passed away – a blood clot had ripped his aorta open.  He was the first person I had ever known personally who died.  I remember crying to my mom on the phone and then again on the hill by the shallow end of Barton Springs while the sun was going down. 

I went on tour again, but by Christmas I was back in Austin trying to stay warm high atop a lifeguard stand at the Barton Springs.  Over our shoulders, we wore long red coats that went down to our feet and shoes that could slip off easily in the water.  In March of 2003 I remember we were on bathroom duty, when a fellow guard came in to tell us the United States had invaded Iraq.  The bathrooms at Barton Springs were gigantic open air spaces with changing stalls and a large lawn down the center where nude sunbathing was permitted.  Cleaning out the spider webs and thinking about war, it dawned on me that what I was doing at the Springs was learning how to be brave again.  When I went on tour the first time, I wasn’t just leaving New York for work, I was running away.  How could anyone be prepared to face death on the kind of scale of 9/11? The way I handled the daily pressure to guard the lives of hundreds of people at the Springs, helped me come to terms with that question.  The answer is different for all of us, but I came to understand that fearing death was a waste of life.

The pool was open until 9 pm in the summer, and one night as were closing up, two patrons came to the office to tell us they saw a man having a seizure on the grass down near the deep end.  We grabbed our gear and headed down that way.  We found him on his back on a cool, dark slope of grass.  His back was severely arched and his hands twisted into claws.  His eyes were open and he was making a gurgling sound.  Step one was to assess the scene; the scene was safe. Step two was to try talking to him; he didn’t respond. Step three was to check his breathing, so I put my ear to his gaping mouth – there was silence and then a deep long intake of air as if someone had stabbed him in the gut.  It was so loud it scared us all and we jumped back, but after that he was still.  There was no breathing.  Step four revealed no pulse.  We began CPR and called for an ambulance. They took him away on a gurney.

A counselor from the city and the head of Aquatics came to debrief us that night.  We learned that he died at the hospital – a blood clot ripped his aorta open just like my actor friend. I learned that nothing can save anyone from that.  I was there when a man took his last breath, and there it was – inescapable death. Again. It was 1 am by the time I got home.

All of us working that night were forced to take a few days off, and when we came back, that man’s girlfriend came to meet us and hear the details from our own mouths. I had the guards pitch in to buy her flowers. They suggested roses, but something told me we needed to get lilies.  I wanted her to know that the people who were with her boyfriend when he passed were kind and thoughtful.  She told us that her boyfriend always bought her lilies. 

The other guard that was working with me that night quit at the end of that summer, but I stayed on.  I needed that job to remind me that we all face death in different ways and that death can come at any moment – when it’s your time to go it’s your time to go, so you might as well live your life seeking joy and leaving love in the wake behind you.  The Springs was like a reset button, as if the cold water brought clarity and rebirth. 

In the fall of 2004 I returned to New York. Sometimes I wish I could go back and climb onto a stand and watch the slowly moving water, then jump off into the cold depths.  It will always remind me of my youth, it will always remind me to be grateful.

On August 12th 2013 Luke Strabala was killed in a hit and run motorcycle accident.  As guards, we never really know the number of lives we change by saving one.  Imagine how many Luke changed by teaching us to be guards…

He changed mine.

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